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Aspirations and Ambivalences of the New Woman: French and Chinese Women's Press and Fiction,1900-1930
My dissertation “Aspirations and Ambivalences of New Woman: French and Chinese Women’s Press and Fiction, 1900-1930” seeks to foster a global understanding of the dilemmas faced by “New Woman” in France and China in the early twentieth century. The thesis operates on two levels: press and fiction, and focuses on three central aspects of women’s lives: heterosexual love, professionalization, and singlehood. It is the first book-length project on the topic in which the East and West converge.
Studying feminist periodicals, I investigate two opposing discourses in the first chapter: the nationalist and anti-nationalist feminisms. I argue that both French republican feminism and Chinese nationalist feminism appropriated motherhood to defend women’s rights to education and women’s status at home. Along the anti-nationalist axis, I identify the anarcho-feminism in France and China, which remains understudied in current scholarship. I observe that Chinese anarcho-feminism is deeply influenced by French individualist anarchism through the bridge of Chinese anarchists in Paris. Together, they contributed to the plurality and complexity of first-wave feminism and challenged the nationalist feminist discourse.
Chapter two shifts from studying periodicals to the textual analysis of fiction centered on heterosexual relations. Informed by psychoanalysis, this chapter frames free love discourse as synonymous with the free expression of individuality. Departing from previous scholarship, I highlight the violent and exclusionary nature of free love, which leads to heroines’ death and rejection of other forms of love. Meanwhile, I propose that French protagonists embrace a new philosophical model of love based on preserving one’s individuality instead of the age-old love model of “merging," which obscures women's identity.
Chapter three employs sociological theories of professionalization to analyze women’s unique challenges and solutions to negotiating family and career. I argue that the female Bildungsroman in the early twentieth century exhibits narrative features different from its nineteenth-century predecessors: the trajectory of girls' development is expanded to include schools and workplaces; love ceases to be the only theme dominating women’s narratives; supportive female communities populate women’s fiction.
The fourth chapter highlights the singlehood that Chinese and French heroines both embrace as a valid life alternative. I investigate the motivations behind singlehood as well as its social stigmatization. Whereas heroines consider singlehood a valid option, their choice imposes a tremendous emotional and social price. I argue that the ideological tension between single women and the larger society lies mainly in contrasting views about female singlehood: it is conceived by female protagonists as a sign of independence and a means of self-preservation, but as a radical renunciation of femininity by society.